Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Rise to Respectability: Race, Religion, and the Church of God in Christ

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Rise to Respectability: Race, Religion, and the Church of God in Christ

Article excerpt

The Rise to Respectability: Race, Religion, and the Church of God in Christ. By Calvin White Jr. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2012. Pp. xii, 186. $34.95, ISBN 978-1-55728-977-3.)

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a divide occurred between many younger, educated ministers and older, rural clergy over the appropriate worship experience for black religious traditions. Many from the new generation sought a more rational and formal practice, while the old guard continued to embrace a more ecstatic, expressive worship style. Nowhere was this division more pronounced than in the black Holiness tradition, which practiced shouting, dancing, and charismatic preaching. Yet, as Calvin White Jr. notes in The Rise to Respectability: Race, Religion, and the Church of God in Christ, there has previously been no comprehensive work that addresses the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) and the life of Charles Harrison Mason, founder "of the largest black Pentecostal denomination" (p. 4). White corrects this historiographical oversight by examining the ways class, respectability, and notions of racial uplift affected the historical trajectory of COGIC from its founding through the civil rights movement.

While detailing Mason's initial attraction to the Holiness movement, White recovers the voices and contributions of many Holiness leaders that have been absent from the historical record. Drawing on recently discovered sources and closely reexamining previously considered items such as legal documents, government records, church yearbooks, and oral interviews, White traces Mason's early career in Arkansas and Memphis and his views about World War I. White connects COGIC's initial impetus toward social respectability to its missionary efforts in Africa that sought to at once evangelize Africans and reshape white views of black people in America. …

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